The Cinematic Life of Petroleum

Thursday, April 6, 2017 -
12:00pm to 2:00pm
Folwell Hall 317

Session Description

Gas Smells

Examining a range of short films, this workshop explores how industry-produced documentaries from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s depict the materiality of petroleum and its by-products. Whether the wavering psychedelic shimmer of an oil slick on water, the abyss of blackness in a puddle of crude, or the antics of a four-armed anthropomorphic animated character representing a molecule of gasoline, these films manifest a surprising ambivalence about the precise nature of the twentieth’s century’s most infamous fuel. Looking at the qualities made visible by these films is essential for understanding the political nature of a petroleum-based economy and cultures of the years of supposed post-war plenitude in the North Atlantic—i.e, the US, Canada, and Western Europe. In the images of these films, a fascinating set of formal relationships manifest an ambivalence around the materiality of petroleum and surface tensions fester that would be otherwise unavailable in the official discourses of “big oil”.